If you’re looking for the short, spoiler-free shopping recommendation, then Mass Effect 3 (and in fact, the whole Mass Effect series) is an experience that no serious gamer should be without. In fact, if you’re serious about spoilers, refrain from reading past the picture below as this article is mainly a review (in other words, a discussion) of the Mass Effect content, and not simply a means by which you decide to buy-it-or-not.
I will, however, say that I’m not a games journalist, that I don’t receive preview copies of games and that I have no relationship with EA or Origin other than a customer. Many high profile professional game review magazines cannot claim the last part of that statement — this industry needs to be cleaned up.
Mass Effect (the series) is grand. It is Space Opera writ large. Decisions have real and surprising consequences and all three installments will have you experiencing the full range of emotions toward the outcomes. While other game series have achieved many other unique things, the cohesive three-part story with power and emotion at epic levels throughout is possibly only equaled by that of the (as yet unfinished) Half-Life series.
If you haven’t yet played though, stop here, go play them all, in order, and come back. I’ll wait.
While reading other peoples’ thoughts on Mass Effect, I stumbled across a discourse on plot holes in Mass Effect 2. The author complained that he had lost suspension of disbelief due to the improbability of events. I can’t say that I did. I agree with him regarding the plot holes — but for me, I recognized them much earlier. In my experience of Mass Effect, aliens just didn’t believe humans, no matter how much evidence was presented.
Belief isn’t a problem in Mass Effect 3. The “Reapers” arrive. They arrive on earth (see above) and they arrive on the home worlds and colonies of each alien race. It’s Shepard’s job to unite the forces of the entire galaxy and to get the “super weapon” built. You do accumulated (and also loose) team members, but unlike the previous two installments, little focus is given to this mechanic. In fact, the total number of squadmates at the end doesn’t really matter.
The core “success” mechanic is to gather “war resources” which each have a numerical value. This total is then multiplied by a factor that represents your recent efforts to play multiplayer or tablet-based Mass Effect games. I initially thought that I would loathe this and was only partially comforted by the fact that one could possibly achieve the “best” ending though single player play alone. I also was leery of the fact that micropayments seemed a strong component of the multiplayer. Both of these turned out to be needless. Only a few hours of multiplayer play is required to boost your “galactic readiness” and the gameplay is sufficiently fun and engaging without the micropayments. I still believe that the inclusion of micropayments here looks greedy on EA’s part — but then I considered that they were pretty much greedy by definition.
In fact, for most of the game I was enjoying the Mass Effect experience just as I had in the previous installments. Shoot some bad guys, talk down some others, then talk to lots of people. Immerse yourself in the story. Rinse and repeat. I was sincerely proud when I finally fixed the Krogan situation by eliminating the genophage and convincing the Krogan to work with the Turians. I was doubly proud when I solved the issue between the Geth and the Quarians. I felt good.
Then came the end. I was ready. I had the 5000 points of galactic readiness required to win. I had upgraded weapons and amazing powers. I was ready to face the reapers.
Like the majority of the game, the end is a mix of talking and fighting. Most of the fighting is pretty epic. In this case, the most epic of holding a location followed by a sprint on foot which is much like the last sprint in the tank of the first game. Then you arrive at the weird part.
After all that you’ve done, you learn that yet someone else is pulling the reaper’s strings. That the purpose of “harvesting” all advanced life in the galaxy each cycle is to prevent them from creating synthetic life that will eventually kill them. Disregarding the fact that this is pretty plainly “killing them to save them” type logic, your entrance on the scene has given you new choices. If you have enough stuff, your choices are:
- Destroy all synthetic life (Renegade?). This includes EDI (your ship’s computer and your pilot’s love interest that you’ve helped grow and learn) and the Geth (which I had just saved as well). It also apparently includes Shepard (there’s this bit in Mass Effect 2 where they “rebuilt him”).
- Control the Reapers (Paragon?). This also seems to kill EDI (she doesn’t emerge from the ship) and doesn’t really mention the Geth. It also seems to kill Shepard.
- Merge Synthetic life with Organic life (neutral?). This seems like the best choice, “but” … it also still destroys both Shepard and the Mass Relays.
I have no problem with Shepard dying. It’s the end of the series and its clear in multiple lines of dialogue from the beginning to the end that he’s very prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. In fact, let’s make that a stronger statement: “I would be very satisfied with an ending where Shepard gave his life for that of the galaxy.”
The most obvious problem I have with all three endings is the destruction of the Mass Relays. Here you have the combined (although reduced) space fleets of a dozen species all fighting to get the super weapon to earth. Not only does this seemingly destroy the Citadel (with it’s millions of inhabitants), but it also strands all these ships around earth by destroying the mass relays. I assume it strands other aliens in their local systems, too — but, in general, they don’t have the combined galaxy’s fleets to feed with one partially destroyed planet’s worth of food production. I get that the Mass Relays are the “explanation” for the “signal” to be broadcast to all corners of the galaxy (thus eliminating all Reapers, not just those around Earth), but anyone considering the destruction of all the Mass Relays would immediately realize that results in a rather sad and poor ending.
But the biggest slap in the face from the ending comes not in the details, but the framing of the choices. I made everyone work together. The synthetic life of this “cycle” was prepared to work with the organics and vice versa. The framing of the “catalysts” choice was that it was inevitable that synthetic life would destroy it’s creator and then be a negative influence on the universe. Certainly this follows from a “Terminator” mindset, which, in turn, is the way the prevailing wind is blowing given that technology is barely understood by a majority of Earth’s population.
But if my choices affect the way the game plays out, it strikes me as a cheap cop-out that they didn’t include an ending for those who managed to make a place for synthetic life to flourish. This ignorance of choice feels just as bad here as it did in Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s boss fights.
It’s no small wonder that a many gamers are clamoring for a rewrite of the ending — possibly with some DLC. A bonus cut scene at the end of the credits seems to allude that Shepard survives (without explaining how) and that a sequel might be planned … but the ending needs to be “fixed” first.